Class Warfare Blog

October 14, 2020

Some Misunderstandings About Education

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 12:46 pm

First, the current understanding of what an education is, here in the U.S., is derived from a factory model. The raw materials/feedstock, our children, are fed into one end of the system and the output is, supposedly, educated citizens coming out the other. In this viewpoint, education is something done to children. And, if we want improvements in our school systems, we look at the buildings, the teachers, the curriculum, that is we look at the factory, because it determines the output.

Instead, I suggest that education should be something we do with children. It is clear that there are children who embrace the process and get a maximal benefit from it. This is often done at first to please parents but usually turns into a self-centered love of the process, including efforts to tailor the process to the needs of the student. At the other end of the spectrum are students who feel that education is a process aimed against them, by people pretending to be their friends. They often reject their teachings and teachers and, if this is prolonged, can result in such students being relegated to an educational wasteland we call “alternative schools.” Often these are people who end up dropping out of the system, whether in attendance or not.

Clearly, the children have enough power to shape this system and should be a significant focus and source of wisdom when considering how to improve the system. But we eschew this approach because, well, they are students, what do they know?

Education is a social system and ignoring most of the participants as non-stakeholders is foolish. Expecting a similar outcome from a process when engaging such a variety of starting points is also foolish.

* * *

Second, education is a social process in which people are taught how to think (not what to think) and how to act and how to work with others. You cannot teach people how to work with one another by replacing the other students and/or teacher with a computer. To only teach kids via computer is to doom them with a vastly inferior education. Those students on Star Trek learning lessons via their tablets have an artificial intelligence at the other end, not a piece of educational software. And that process is only to supplement their face-to-face educations. (Imagine learning to interact with aliens with no aliens to interact with.)

So, the “factory model” thinkers who are looking for more cost effective ways to teach kids are doomed to failure before they even start.

I will tell you what a really expensive education is: one that fails to educate students. It is much cheaper to spend more money on getting kids into high quality educational settings than anything else. Students who find self worth in such a system are less likely to be law-breakers, drug addicts, etc. and much more likely to be productive citizens in a society such as ours. The old line about car mechanics telling you “you can pay me now or pay me (more) later” really applies here.

* * *

Third, private education is not inherently better or even inherently different from public education. There is the perception in this country that “private” is better than “public.” There is nothing to support this attitude. When widely available test scores are compared and corrected for the socioeconomic standing of the students, students in public schools do as well as students in private schools. What the private schools do, though, is to exclude the poor from their pool of students and so raise, on average, their student performances. Their curricula are not superior. Their teachers are not superior. Their facilities are not superior, they just exclude poor students by the simple expedient of charging a lot of money. A private grammar school next door to our first condo when we moved to Chicago, charges $24,000 per year to attend. Poor students had access to this school . . . they just could afford to go. Just like their parent’s have access to health care, they just can’t afford to take advantage of it.

* * *

Fourth, poverty is the enemy of educational improvement. Eliminating poverty is not a job schools can tackle but there are things that can be done to offset it. For one, all public schools should offer free breakfasts and lunches to all students. The cost of this is far less than a recent major fighter jet system that was ordered but will never be used. If we do this, then no kid can use hunger as an excuse as to why they can’t pay attention, because they won’t be hungry.

Similarly there should be common health screenings and treatments for all school kids. This would be far cheaper than the diseases spread by children when they get infected through lack of care and exposure to disease. The current pandemic is teaching us this . . . again.

Schools should work to eliminate the stigma of being poor, something promoted only by the wealthy class.


  1. The American education “system” is a very mixed bag in every aspect. One constant though, is change. America has always been all about change and we have yet to determine how and what to teach our children. Education does not get the respect it deserves. GROG

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by grogalot — October 14, 2020 @ 1:04 pm | Reply

    • And we don’t learn well from others. There is no central clearinghouse for educational research. There is no consistent communication regarding educational experiments. I think that teaching is a craft, but education shouldn’t be run like a craft hall. We need to be far better organized.

      GROG, indeed!

      On Wed, Oct 14, 2020 at 1:04 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — October 15, 2020 @ 11:55 am | Reply

  2. There are a lot of things I find – irritating, shall we say, about the whole educational system, but I think that what disturbs me the most is the attempt to turn college into little more than a somewhat higher level trade school. Once upon a time colleges weren’t just there to give you qualifications to get a job, but to make you a better person. For the last 20 years or so here in Wisconsin the emphasis isn’t on making students better people but on increasing their earning potential. If a class doesn’t do something that directly enhances their job skills, it shouldn’t exist according to a lot of politicians here in the state and, alas, a lot of educators as well. As a result we’re seeing arts programs being cut, literature, philosophy, all of them are being cut back or even being eliminated entirely.


    Comment by grouchyfarmer — October 14, 2020 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

    • IMO, this all goes back to the greediness of the rich and powerful. They want the “common folk” out there working and making money for the various companies they own so they can increase their already overflowing offshore accounts. Oh, and to increase their bragging rights. Horrors! If students were to spend time learning how to think, the whole capitalistic world would suffer and we can’t have that!

      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Nan — October 15, 2020 @ 11:07 am | Reply

      • Those corporatists were originally on board with public education as a means to “Americanize” all of the immigrants pouring into the country. Their hearts have never been in education, only their wallets.

        On Thu, Oct 15, 2020 at 11:08 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


        Liked by 3 people

        Comment by Steve Ruis — October 15, 2020 @ 11:15 am | Reply

      • Alas, Nan, a lot of parents don’t want their kids to learn to think because that means the kids might reject the irrational beliefs the parents have. Education isn’t measured by how well the child can solve problems or use logical thought, but by rote memorization of unimportant facts. We’re enormously fond of forcing kids to remember facts without giving them the reasons why those facts are important. I know the Battle of Hastings was on Oct. 14, 1066 but they never taught us the root causes of the invasion nor about the long term consequences.

        We have a very warped notion of what “success” actually is. A lot of people judge success by the amount of money a person has or other things that ultimately are meaningless. I overheard a couple of my students talking in one of my classes and the old joke about “the one with the most toys when he dies wins” came up, and I reminded them that the winner was still dead, so what, ultimately, was the point of accumulating all that stuff in the first place?

        Liked by 2 people

        Comment by grouchyfarmer — October 15, 2020 @ 10:25 pm | Reply

    • And do not think for a moment that this is not planned. I used to have a copy of the famous Harvard Red Book on General Education. I don’t think anything claimed in that book is not any different, yet we don’t seem to want to change the way we do anything to see if we could do those things any better.

      Back when I was still teaching, I suggested that we may want to teach our “service courses” collectively. My suggestions were desperately ignored. I argued that surely we could do better as a team than as individuals. I used my experience from 10 years prior as a new hire, trying to figure out what to teach from the two tenured teachers already teaching the class. I asked if there were course objectives and I was told no. Three years later, I found out there were course objectives, written because of a political mandate to do so, but these were never adopted by the department. It took me the better part of four yertas, but I got those reviewed and adopted by the department as a whle, but I expect individuals would ignore them with impungity.

      We can and should be doing better.

      On Wed, Oct 14, 2020 at 10:32 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — October 15, 2020 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

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